Improve coverage of diverse communities today

March 13, 2018 01:30

A new report released last week by the Women’s Media Center found that women of color remain critically underrepresented in U.S. newsrooms.

Based in part on RTDNA’s annual diversity in newsrooms research, the reports found that women of color represent just 7.95 percent of U.S. print newsroom staff, 12.6 percent of local TV news staff, and 6.2 percent of local radio staff.

Diversity in newsrooms has increasing in fits and starts since RTDNA began its annual research in the 1970s with notable breakthroughs including RTDNF scholarship and fellowship namesakes, and, just this year, reporter Tahera Rahman at Nexstar’s WHBF in the Quad Cities becoming the first hijab-wearing reporter on local TV news.          

However, newsroom diversity is not keeping pace with diversity in the population as a whole.

The Women’s Media Center report comes on the 50th anniversary of the Kerner Commission report, “which criticized the news media for not sufficiently covering race issues — and for not having the kinds of journalists who profoundly knew aspects of stories that White journalists did not.”

RTDNA has previously noted that newsroom diversity is a recipe for more diverse coverage and reaching a broader audience.

"Everything about what you do will suffer to the extent that you don’t have a diverse newsroom and you don’t have a newsroom that looks like the people in your community," says RTDNA researcher Bob Papper.

The work for newsrooms doesn’t end with diversifying. Individuals from underrepresented groups also tend to fare worse in newsrooms, seeing fewer opportunities for advancement and higher risk of harassment.

Intentional, high-level cultural shifts in newsrooms and corporate offices are required to truly do better across our industry.
But there are some things newsrooms can to today to improve coverage of diverse communities.
  • How a story is framed is more important than ever when initial impressions of a story are limited to 280 characters during breaking news. Be transparent. Let your audience know why you’re talking to certain communities and using certain words.
  • Be careful attaching motivation to just one aspect of someone’s identity. Note RTDNA’s coverage guidelines for racial identification.
  • Plan ahead.  Review and discuss available styleguides in your newsroom before breaking news happens.
  • Consider ways to follow and acknowledge discussions happening during coverage.
As April Ryan, White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, stated in the Women’s Media Center report, “Diversity matters, and you have to make sure those stories you break change the atmosphere and bring more texture to the story.”